The 1980s were years of steady growth of Clarendon Church. In 1984 we ran out of space and multiplied onto two congregations; a further three were added two years later. But we then realised that we had effectively created five churches. This ran counter to a prophetic word we had received in the early days that we would be like a substantial tree whose branches would reach over Brighton and Hove, a tree that would have visibility across the town. And so we started to meet again as one congregation in the local cinema complex with its six halls, allowing us to carry on the children’s ministry in parallel with the main meetings.
There was an urgent need for us to have our own larger building. As a step of faith (and to save money hiring the cinema!) we returned to the Clarendon Villas building and had multiplied meetings on a Sunday to accommodate the 8-900 people who attended. In 1991 we found our present building, built originally as a warehouse for storing precious metals. It was very substantial and could have a third story added. This would provide the space we needed. After being turned down for outline planning permission followed by much prayer we were granted full permission on appeal. The amazing story behind this turnaround is too long to recount here but it gave us the confidence that God was with us!
Prayer has always been an important part of church life. No one who was in church in the early days could forget the memorable church prayer meetings on a Saturday morning where it was standing room only! Often God would speak through prophecy in ways that shaped us as a people and give us direction once the elders had carefully weighed it in the context of further prayer. In those days every day of the week the elders would be in prayer together in some context.
In February 1992 we took possession of what came to be known as the Clarendon Centre and started to renovate it. Major work was required. Phase 1 sought to give us sufficient space to meet on a temporary basis and by May 1993 we were able to use it. It became fully utilised in 1994 when the widespread outpouring of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called the Toronto blessing, caused us to hold frequent meetings during the weekdays as well as at weekends. Meanwhile the top floor was built on the previous roof and, when we opened it in April 1996, we were able to seat nearly 1000 people.
What was happening to Terry’s team ministry during this time? Originally called Coastlands from the prophecy in Isaiah ‘the coastlands wait expectantly for your instruction’, referring to the ends of the earth, the name was changed to New Frontiers since people misinterpreted ‘coastlands’ by assuming it referred to the south coast of UK, where Brighton and Hove are located. Our vision was large not localised!
When the team first met in September 1980 (L to R: David Holden, Richard Haydon Knowell, Henry Tyler, Ray Lowe, Alan Vincent, Terry Virgo and myself) the members had contact with about twenty UK churches and one in Bombay, India. Gradually, through invitations and the profile gained though the Downs Bible Week these numbers grew and new nations began to be reached. But we believed in the autonomy of the local church and the plurality of elders so we were not seeking to build an organisation. Nevertheless, God’s favour was with us and growth was steady; some Churches were being planted and others sought adoption.
Next time we will look at what contributed to that growth.